My December Reading Journal

The end of 2018 has arrived, and I’m celebrating by getting as many books in as I can. With a few extra days off work, I can sit back and get lost in the words. Here’s my short recap of the books I read in December:

Harrison Scott Key’s Congratulations, Who Are You Again?: Key’s sophomore memoir is another hilarious romp. Here, Key turns to the hilarity and horror of the writing and publishing process. Parts of this book made me cringe, but in a story like this one, that’s a good thing. I loved the sections about the book tours. Wow. This guy’s had an interesting life—I guess that’s why he’s writing about it, though. His exploration of first getting published and finding an agent are also really engaging. I do think it’s a tad too long, but this is what I needed to read. It inspired me to hurry up and finish my own book.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming: Michelle Obama’s memoir is exquisite. This is a beautifully worded story, full of grace and hope and love. I truly believe she is a remarkable human and that we don’t (and didn’t) deserve her. She would be the best bet for 2020, but, after reading this book, I don’t think she has any interest in politics. She’s above that messy world. The reflections contained in these pages are honest and insightful. I loved it.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo: My favorite books are those about how art has the power to transform us. This graphic memoir, told with a limited color palette and little edges, is that kind of book. Krosoczka details his young life, plagued with an absent father, a drug-addicted mother, complicated grandparents fulfilling the role of parents, and all kinds of family difficulties. But art—and the author’s love to create—is what helps guide his soul. This narrative is inspiring and, ultimately, important. Young audiences should seek this one out for sure, but it’s really a must read for just about anybody.

Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona: I’ve read this one twice, and I keep thinking about how unique it is. It’s funny, but it’s also, at least occasionally, serious. It’s weird. I appreciate how the traditional tropes of heroes and villains are upended. I love the medieval elements of the graphic novel and how they mix with the bold colors of a modern science fiction. Nimona, the young protagonist, wants to be a villain so badly, and she partly gets her wish in this fun, inventive book.

Elliot Ackerman’s Waiting for Eden: Narrated by an unnamed ghost who has crossed to the other side, Ackerman has crafter a masterpiece of fiction. The story follows the story of Mary and Eden, a young couple with a complex history. Eden goes off to war and is nearly killed in an explosion. His injuries are so horrible that he rests in a bed throughout the remainder of his life, plagued with terrible burns and other physically disabling conditions. The unnamed narrator waits for Eden, his dearest friend. There’s so much to unpack in this slim, yet powerful novel. Among so much more, Ackerman closely explores guilt, love, and loss. This story demands to be read feverishly. Ackerman’s knocked it out of the park here. Extraordinary work.

Harrison Scott Key’s The World’s Largest Man: I felt like I was reading my own memoir as I read Key’s debut. I know this dude. I know his family. I know his experiences. They are all me. This memoir is largely about Key’s relationship with his father, but it’s also about the South and what it expects (demands?) of men. Key takes some issues to task, but he largely paints how it is and avoids the political. I wish it was a bit more critical, but I respect his approach. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, but the last chapter is pretty much guaranteed to make folks cry. Good stuff from a writer I love.

Sharma Shields’ The Cassandra: Yeah, I read it in November and December both. I kept thinking about it, so I returned to it. As I read it a second time, I found it to be much darker than I’d first thought. This is an affecting and haunting novel that has a lot to say about power and how it’s used—and also about guilt. I’m interviewing Sharma for Electric Literature, so I’ll be reading it again very soon. I hope The Cassandra finds the readership it deserves.

Josh Denslow’s Not Everyone is Special: Funny, heartfelt, sad, and magical. These stories are so good. There’s teleportation and holiday love and grouchy Santas. I have a lot to say about this one, but I’m going to cover it in some way, so I’ll say it then. Let me quickly note how much I like the slimness of this collection. The stories are relatively short—a few extremely short, and it works incredibly well. I hope all the collections that come my way in 2019 are this good.

I also read each of the nominees for the Leonard Prize, which awards the year’s best literary debut. Instead of listing those here, I’ll post a separate discussion.

I certainly closed out the year with a nice set of books!

Bradley Sides